Mares says that as he received the fateful call from Espinoza, he felt just one emotion, "Honestly, it was frustration; that was the first thing that came to play, first thing that came to my mind. Just frustration in my mind, sadness and just you could say a little mad but that plays in with the frustration. At first, I thought [Espinoza] was playing when he said that the fight was canceled but then again, he wouldn’t play with something like that. He just said, ’Stay alert. We don’t know; it’s not confirmed yet. Let’s see what happens.’"
Eventually, Agbeko was scratched from the fight. Those who wanted refunds (which included many of Mares’ friends and family around the local area) were given that option, while the Showtime broadcast went on with Vic Darchinyan facing Yonnhy Perez in the consolation bout of their bantamweight tournament. This week at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas, Mares is slated to face the respected Ghanaian once again but there were attempts to find Mares a replacement fight that weekend in April. The decision was eventually made to just sit it out.
"When we first got involved in this tournament, we wanted to fight the best. We didn’t want somebody to come in at the last minute. We wanted to wait for Agbeko. Unfortunately, he got hurt but this was the guy that was in the tournament that we wanted to fight," said Espinoza. As for Mares, the uncertainty of the whole situation may not have been conducive for him to box that weekend. "Overall, my mind, it was just like a rollercoaster," said Mares, who has a record of 21-0-1 (13). "I just went back down completely. I was getting ready for Agbeko, a world title, a great fight. We had studied him already, so we were ready for him. There were other names mentioned to fight but just the fact that you weren’t fighting the same guy- and not just that- for a world title- it’s not the same. Not the same attitude. It just wouldn’t have been the same."
Yeah, this was a buzzkill; no doubt about it.
"I know for a fact [Mares] got down for awhile," said Espinoza. "I remember he was a little depressed because he worked so hard and to get that news at the last minute before a fight, it was very discouraging. But now it’s a different situation."
For a professional boxer, there is no worse feeling than putting in all the months of hard work and sacrifice, then getting the plug pulled on you. Bottom line, you don’t get paid to train. "That was one of the worst feelings ever," said Mares of his April ordeal. "Especially fight night, when you go to see the [Darchinyan-Perez] fight; I didn’t even watch the fight, really. I was just a little sad that I wasn’t fighting, so I didn’t see the fight. I caught the replays after."
On that Wednesday, the final presser for that promotion was staged and it confirmed to Mares that Agbeko was legitimately damaged.
"At first, knowing where the company’s coming from, Don King, we know him to do these kinda games, mind games, where they tell you, ’Oh, well, my fighter’s not feeling good. The fight might be canceled,’ just to play with the opponent’s mind. So at that point, it might be that. It might not be true but then after seeing Agbeko at the press conference, when I saw him limping, when I saw him with a cane walking, he looked like an old man," Mares recalled. "I was like, ’Whoa, he must really be in pain.’ So that’s when I was like, ’Well, I wish that wouldn’t have happened to me. Let’s move on.’"
Perhaps Mares had a sense of empathy based on his own experiences. It wasn’t long ago that his own career was in doubt.
"Most definitely, that’s what came into play. Right after I saw him, the first thing that flashed in my mind was when I had the detached retina and they told me I might not ever be able to fight again. So that played into it and I definitely understood where he was coming from. I’m sure he wanted to fight too. The frustration he must’ve felt too. So it was on both sides but it’s done and we’re just ready to get this started now."
Agbeko impressively reversed his initial loss to Perez by boxing smartly, using angles and hitting on the fly in their second go-round. Mares knows he can’t be one-dimensional versus the defending champion. "You can’t attack Agbeko straightforward because this guy throws straight punches and overhand rights. He will catch you if you’re pulling back or if you’re not going in properly, so we gotta wait. We trained really good. We did a lot of head movement and overall, we’re just ready for this fight, for any style that Agbeko brings because he’s known to have various styles."
Mares trained for this bout in Santa Fe Springs at the Elite MMA Academy. He sounded remarkably upbeat and optimistic for the task at hand. There doesn’t seem to be any letdown from the cancellation of the bout in April.
"I spoke to Abner the other day; he even told me himself, ’I feel stronger. I’m more mentally positive this fight,’" said Espinoza. "Here he is; we got this second chance and he’s really motivated and he’s really mentally strong right now." Clemente Medina, who trains Mares, concurs. "Yeah, more confident because he took a rest of about two weeks and then came back to learn. He started to learn. We’ve had about three months in camp."
He added last Friday afternoon, "Mares is ready. He wants to go right now to the ring, to the fight, but he’s on weight and mentally, he’s so clear. He has great confidence. He had good sparring, the best sparring. So I don’t know if Agbeko changed something for the fight for Mares but they’ve got two good styles for this fight."
Mares also believes a better version of himself than the one originally scheduled to face Agbeko will square off against the titlist.
"Oh, yeah, it’s like getting a second chance to train for the guy. Not many guys get that. There’s so many guys that finish a fight and then after the fight, they’re like, ’Oh, man, I should’ve done this or that.’ Me, I’m getting a second camp. We got to study him more and now like I said, we’re completely ready for him."
Mares came excruciatingly close to winning his first major world title last year as he drew with Perez at the Staples Center. Then he felt he was going to grab it several months ago. Now, he’s back right on the brink of fulfilling every fighter’s dream.
"I think about it every day. I dream about it. I try to just dream and make it true. August 13th, I can’t wait."
It looks more and more like the return bout between WBO featherweight titlist Orlando Salido and Juan Manuel Lopez will take place in 2012. The budgets at both HBO and Showtime are running dry and with that, I’ve been told that Salido will make another title defense in November in Mexico and that “JuanMa” will co-headline a show in Puerto Rico alongside Rocky Martinez in early October.
If this rematch takes place early next year on the island, this juuuust might be my first trip to see a fight in Puerto Rico (and as I’m typing this out, I’m waving around two Puerto Rican flags like Don King and bellowing out, “VIIIIIIVVAAAAA PUUUUUUERRTO RIIIIIIICCCCCOOOOO!”)
Just to be clear, Bob Arum would be the promoter of this fight.
The return of Nonito Donaire, the WBC and WBO bantamweight champion- and Top Rank’s prodigal son- is set.
"Donaire returns off his scintillating knockout, ’Knockout of the Year,’ in a way of Fernando Montiel, we love having him back in the fold," said Carl Moretti, V.P. of Boxing Operations for Top Rank. "He’s one of the best fighters in the world and he’ll be back on HBO on November 5th, probably either from Las Vegas or California.
As for who the “Filipino Flash” might face, Moretti said, "Anybody at 118 that is credible, separate of the guys participating in the Showtime tournament."
Getting more specific, Moretti said, "You got Omar Narvaez from Argentina, who’s had like 12 title defenses at 115. Cesar Esquivel from Mexico, Sebastian Gauthier from Canada, Juan Mercedes from Puerto Rico, all those types of guys. He definitely wants to defend his bantamweight titles, so we’re looking to fight at 118."
It’s not clear if this telecast will have a co-feature attached to it.
The Showtime broadcast on Saturday takes place at 10 PM, ET/PT and will feature just one bout...A name being mentioned for Chris Arreola, who is slated to fight in Ontario, Ca. on Sept. 15th is DaVarryl Williamson...WBA bantamweight beltholder Anselmo Moreno will make his Golden Boy debut on October 15th on the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson undercard at the Staples Center versus Eric Morel. Honestly, from a style perspective, this might be a track meet or a snoozer...The August 20th edition of “Top Rank Live” comes from Ensenada, Mexico and has Fernando Montiel facing Alvaro Perez. The following week from Guadalajara, “TRL” has the IBF junior flyweight title bout between Ulises Solis and Adrian Mendoza and a co-feature for the WBO minimumweight title between Raul Garcia and Moises Fuentes...Jesus Soto-Karass returns on Oct 1st on the Toshiaki Nishioka-Rafael Marquez undercard in Las Vegas on October 1st...Has anyone in Tennessee seen Chris Johnson?...This is for his own health and safety but either get Joe Paterno on a tower ala Bear Bryant, surround him with Secret Service men on the practice field or put him in a protective bubble...Reliant Stadium in Houston, the home of Andre “The Giant” Johnson, could host Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s November 19th bout...Let it be said, Bobby Gunn is the new lineal bare-knuckle boxing champion. To get this title, you gotta go through him...We have a slew of great new Maxboxing/YouTube videos, courtesy of our outstanding videographer Brian Harty and on-air ace Radio Rahim, featuring Bernard Hopkins on Chad Dawson (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kin_HlUiSUI), Dawson on Hopkins (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvkfFBJnuLs) and the press conference touting their upcoming fight on October 15 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cpc2CudCzM)...I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing.